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Lobbying watchdog chair says ‘there seem to be no boundaries’

Lord Pickles says he has “never really come across anything like this” before, after he heard details of a top civil servant’s involvement with Greensill Capital.

The chairman of the Acoba committee, which vets the appointment of senior ministers and officials, told MPs this morning that the Bill Crothers case highlighted “a number of anomalies within the system”, and that his was not an isolated situation.

Mr Crothers, a former head of government procurement, began working for the collapsed firm Greensill as a part-time adviser to the board in September 2015 – in a move approved by the Cabinet Office – and did not leave his Civil Service role until November that year.

Lord Pickles described the moment he heard Mr Crothers’ situation, saying: “to misquote PG Woodhouse, my eyebrows did raise the full quarter inch… I’ve been involved in public life for a long time and I have never really come across anything like this before.”

It comes as MPs have today confirmed a second full inquiry into the Greensill lobbying scandal as the government faces further questions over the “revolving door” with business.

The fresh inquiry will be held by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Tory chairman William Wragg said this morning.

It follows the Treasury Select Committee announcing an inquiry into lobbying yesterday, which is in addition to a separate probe that has been launched by Boris Johnson.

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Sturgeon pledges £2.5bn rise in NHS spending if re-elected

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled her party’s “transformational” manifesto, but said she could go further if Scotland was independent.

She outlined a £2.5bn increase in NHS spending in the next five years if her party is re-elected on 6 May, along with an £800m boost in social care funding.

NHS dentistry charges will be scrapped, at an initial cost of £75m a year and then rising to £100m annually as demand grows, and government-supported childcare will be expanded to one- and two-year-olds.

The rates of income tax will also be frozen over the next parliamentary term if Ms Sturgeon is re-elected, she promised.

She insisted the spending commitments in the manifesto – which total about £6bn – were affordable, saying they come in “slightly below” the central assumptions made for the Scottish Government’s budget for the coming years.

The First Minister, who in the coronavirus era launched the manifesto in an online event from her own dining room, said: “(The UK Government) are using their powers to take Scotland in the wrong direction and they are pressing the accelerator.

“This will make recovery more difficult as they hurtle towards a deeply damaging destination that few people in Scotland want.

“I look around Europe and I see independent countries, of similar size to us, that are among the wealthiest, fairest and happiest in the world.

“If Denmark and Norway and Ireland can do it, then with all our resources and talent, why not Scotland?”

However, Ms Sturgeon pledged she will not push for another referendum on independence until after the pandemic, saying: “That would be a dereliction of my duty as First Minister to dedicate all of my energies to leading us through the crisis.

“But it would also be a dereliction of my duty as First Minister – my duty to this and future generations – to let Westminster take Scotland so far in the wrong direction that we no longer have the option to change course.”

Jane Dalton15 April 2021 13:45

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Lobbying watchdog chair says ‘there seem to be no boundaries’ and system needs urgent reform

Lord Pickles said the public should be given a “full and frank and transparent explanation” of how a civil servant began working for Greensill as a part-time adviser. in a move approved by the Cabinet Office. Ashley Cowburn and Andrew Woodcock report:

Jane Dalton15 April 2021 13:19

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Brexit minister meets with Irish foreign affairs minister over NI protocol

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Lord Frost have met with Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney “as part of regular bilateral engagement”, Downing Street has confirmed.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will meet with Mr Coveney this afternoon, officials said.

Lord Frost is due to meet vice-president of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic in Brussels on Thursday evening.

“The meeting is part of an ongoing process with the EU to resolve outstanding differences on the Northern Ireland Protocol,” Number 10 said.

Joe Middleton15 April 2021 12:46

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SNP offers Scots up to £50,000 to move to the islands

Nicola Sturgeon will offer Scots up to £50,000 to move to the islands, as part of new plans set to be announced by the SNP to deal with rural population decline.

The scheme is set to be unveiled in the SNP’s manifesto launch on Thursday amid concerns over the island depopulation in Shetland, Orkney and the Hebrides.

Adam Forrest has all the details

Joe Middleton15 April 2021 12:20

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Hundreds of British Gas engineers lose jobs in row over pay and conditions

Around 500 British Gas engineers have lost their jobs after refusing to sign new contracts which will cut pay while asking staff to work longer hours.

The GMB union condemned the “mass sackings” and alleged the new agreements would see pay reduced by 15 per cent.

Tom Batchelor reports

Joe Middleton15 April 2021 11:54

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We have strict rules in place on lobbying – Sir Keir Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer said today that Labour had “very strict rules in place” to ensure his own shadow cabinet ministers declared meetings with businesses and unions, as the furore over David Cameron’s lobbying for Greenshill Capital continued today.

He said: “We’ve got very strict rules in place for the shadow cabinet with declarations being made.

“What we’re talking about here is lobbying of Government for massive procurement contracts involving millions, sometimes billions, of pounds.

“Increasingly we’re seeing a murkier and murkier picture, whether it’s the way contracts are handed out, the lack of due process, or the lobbying which is not a revolving door but now an open door into Government.”

Asked if ministers should expect to be sacked if they failed to declare meetings with lobbyists, Sir Keir said: “I think it’s absolutely a sackable offence not to declare such meetings.”

Joe Middleton15 April 2021 11:41

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Public should be given ‘full and frank’ explanation of Bill Crothers case – Lord Pickles

The public should be given a “full and frank” explanation as to how a top civil servant was allowed to work as a part-time adviser at Greensill Capital while still in Whitehall, according to Lord Pickles.

The chairman of the committee which vets the appointment of senior ministers and officials told MPs the Bill Crothers case highlighted “a number of anomalies within the system”, and that his was not an “isolated” situation.

Mr Crothers, a former head of Government procurement, began working for Greensill as a part-time adviser to the board in September 2015 – in a move approved by the Cabinet Office – and did not leave his Civil Service role until November that year.

Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) chairman Lord Pickles said the public was “entitled” to know the arrangements for second roles being approved by the Cabinet Office, such as in Mr Crothers’ example.

“I mean, if Mr Crothers had decided he wanted to have a milk round or something, I don’t think we would be terribly worried,” he told the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).

“But his particular position, in terms of running procurement and working for a commercial organisation, is something that does require a full and frank and transparent explanation.”

(PA)

Joe Middleton15 April 2021 11:19

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Ousted Myanmar ambassador calls for UK government help

The ousted Myanmar ambassador to the UK has pleaded with the British Government for help as he faced eviction from his London residence.

Kyaw Zwar Minn said he “needed to be careful” following the seizure of the embassy by a military attache, which had come “without warning”.

The former diplomat had called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s elected leader, who was detained after the military seized power in a coup on February 1.

Mr Minn was forced to spend a night in his car last week after junta loyalists barred him from the embassy in Mayfair, central London.

Speaking to reporters from behind the padlocked gates of his residence in Hampstead, north-west London, on Thursday, and asked what he would do over the next few days, Mr Minn replied: “Who can tell? The last time they seized the embassy without warning, so I need to be careful.”

Addressing the UK Government directly, he said: “Help me, help me, help me,” adding that he would give a more detailed response on Friday.

The UK has made an offer of safe haven to the former ambassador, and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the “bullying” Myanmar regime for its response.

Joe Middleton15 April 2021 11:05

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Lord Pickles interrupted by digital assistant while talking to MPs

Lord Pickles got into a spot of bother familiar to many Brits who have been stuck working from home during the Covid pandemic.

Many things can go wrong when working remotely on Zoom; from the kids causing chaos, to forgetting to turn yourself off mute when speaking or shoddy broadband.

However Lord Pickles added to the list of home-working gaffes by accidentally getting his digital assistant to speak up for him while he was answering questions for the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) this morning.

While talking, Lord Pickles automated fact-finder told MPs: “Hmmm I don’t know that one.” Fortunately the interruption was a bit of light relief amid the serious topics being discussed this morning…

Joe Middleton15 April 2021 10:46

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Public ‘entitled to know’ arrangements for civil service second jobs – Lord Pickles

Acoba chairman Lord Pickles is giving evidence to the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) this morning.

Among other things, he is being asked about the revelation that Bill Crothers, a former head of Government procurement, began working for Greensill as a part-time adviser to the board in September 2015 and did not leave his Whitehall job until November that year.

He said that the public was “entitled” to know the arrangements for second roles being approved by the Cabinet Office, as with the Bill Crothers case.

“I would expect it to be recorded in a register, I would have expected that register to be transparent, I would have expected the rules to be known,” he told MPs on PACAC.

“So far as I know, the rules have never been published, therefore I have asked them to publish the rules – this is not a satisfactory situation.

“And I think, not only you are entitled to know or I am entitled to know, I think the wider public are entitled to know what these arrangements are, how they apply, what criteria is raised, what checks are raised, what conditions are made on an agreement to do so.”

Joe Middleton15 April 2021 10:27

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